Full details and manufacturer specifications for the Chord Huei can be found HERE. It is a moving magnet and moving coil phono stage with unbalanced RCA inputs and both balanced and unbalanced outputs.
The Huei itself benefits from the robust construction techniques of all Chord HiFi. Its styling echoes that of the Chord Qutest. Like that unit, there is a clear window in the top, allowing you to see the internal electronics. At the front edge are four opaque, translucent balls that change colour as different settings are made; this means that a copy of the instruction book is essential on the rare occasions you wish to change the impedance or gain. Some colours are very close together and I found myself cycling through them a couple of times to ensure I had the right settings. In moving magnet (MM) mode the impedance is set to 47kohms. The gain can be varied for both MM and Moving Coil (MC).
This review feels that it was a long time in the making. The unit arrived but when it was installed it hummmmmed like a hummy thing. To cut a long story short, make sure your unit has a small plate on the Phono Stage outputs.
I had spent twenty years with EAR pre-amps, first the 864 then the 868. These came equipped with excellent phono stages, however, these units are far from entry or mid-priced. Having enjoyed Chord on the digital front, I was interested to hear their analogue efforts.
I recently bought a box and power supply from Les Wolstenholme of Avondale audio to make use of my aged Naim phono cards as my mid-price reference. The Avondale box, PSU and Naim Cards were chosen by me as I suspect many people will have bought or at least heard these cards.
My LP12 has been regularly serviced but was at the bleeding edge thirty years ago. Cirkus bearing with a Mober SSP12 inner platter, installed six months ago, and a ‘Geddon PSU. The arm is a Naim ARO holding a Dynavector DV20x2H.
My intention was to use a few albums to warm up the system before testing with a few tracks from three albums.
The warm-up albums were:
- Laboratorium Project – The Blue Light Pilot;
- Irakere – Bailando Asi; and
- Pink Floyd – The Wall.
The review albums were:
- Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic, Miami 2017;
- Rush – Moving Pictures, Red Barchetta;
- Michael Jackson – Thriller, Beat It; and
- John Williams & Cleo Laine - Best Friends, Feelings.
In the event, FAR more albums were used, including:
Having installed the Chord Huei I turned it on. Not being a neophyte, I muted the pre-amp and turned the input to something other than the Huei. This did not prevent some audio thumps, squeaks and squeals from emanating from the speakers. This was a consistent issue when turning the unit on and off as well as altering the impedance or gain …….until, well more anon.
The plan was to warm up the system with the albums listed above before working my way through the review tracks. I started with the Avondale box containing my pair of Naim NA523 boards. The sound that emanated was akin to slipping into a warm bath. This was very familiar territory. Not the most detailed picture but a solid, dynamic and entertaining one. I considered this a stiff challenge for the Huei, and so it proved …..initially.
I started listening to Laboratorium Project’s, ‘The Blue Light Pilot’. It was immediately evident that the sound stage was narrower than the Naim boards, the bass was lighter and there was an upward tilt to the frequency response. I moved on to ‘Bailando Asi’ and ‘The Wall’, but things failed to improve.
Whilst trying to solve the initial hum problem, Chord had asked what cartridge I was using. They recommended NOT using the Huei set to MM but MC, with the impedance wound up as high as possible and the gain minimised. Always willing to experiment I endured a few thumps and clicks while resetting the Huei and had a degree of trepidation as I lowered the stylus. Now THIS WAS MUCH BETTER.
The sound balance was immediately improved with the bass being fully present and correct. Over the next half an hour, the Chord Huei blossomed. Having moved on to side one of ‘The Wall’ ‘The Happiest Days of Their Lives’ started. As the track progressed Nick Mason’s drumming and his use of the cymbals was superb, moving from punctuation to an insistent rhythm. Having listened to these albums many times over the decades on a wide variety of systems it is hard to unhear musical lines. This means that I find my mind filling in the missing details even when they are not supplied, but when they ARE it is so much better. This phono stage is good at resolving detail.
Billy Joel’s Miami 2017 has a couple of entrances by the band where the drums kick in, and that dynamic was rendered very well by the Huei. The opening with the sweeping electronic bass tone bought a big grin to my face. The excitement and energy of the track was improved with the crowd enthusiastically encouraging Joel over the Avondale/Naim. This is an interesting track to try with better phono stages, the crowd’s presence improves and the sound stage grows.
Moving Pictures has always been a great favourite of mine and ‘Red Barchetta’ is the stand-out track for me. The Chord Huei produced this very well. The bass drives the melody forward with great lead guitar flourishes and percussive sweeps of the drums. But, what I think makes this a stand-out track for me are the quieter passages between the audio pyrotechnics.
The Chord Huei set to MC stepped up the detail and dynamics. At this point I just wanted to work my way through as many albums as possible. Now, most of my vinyl has been owned for maaaany years. I do have an Oki Nokki however, I have still to use it in anger, therefore many of my albums are not as quiet as they might be. The Chord Huei was better at allowing me to listen into the music whilst ignoring any accompanying distractions.
At the end of that first listening session, I played the whole of John Williams & Cleo Laine’s ‘Best Friends’ album. Inherited this from my parents and it sat unused for forty years, my memory being that as excellent a vocalist as Laine is there was nothing much here for me; wrong. This is a superb recording, with John Williams weaving his guitar work in and around Cleo Laine’s superb voice. I put the needle on the record and only removed it at the end of each side. In fact, I found this with most of the albums I played. There were a few that were such bad recordings that I just had to stop, but if it got beyond the first minute then the whole side was played.
So, was there any way to improve on this showing? As it happens, there is.
I power my Chord M-Scaler with a Krisdonia battery set to 12volts, which is also the voltage needed by the Huei. When using a battery supply or a better Linear PSU I find the effect is pretty consistent, IF there is any difference at all, which isn’t always the case. That is, the bass tightens up and the higher frequencies clean up. This proved the case here, although not to the same extent as with the digital front end, it was a minor improvement, but in my case was a freebie. I felt that the battery-powered unit allowed through a tad more detail as the noise floor dropped, which also gave a bit more dynamically. Additionally, all the thumps and whistles that had been occurring when turning the unit on or off stopped, as they did when adjusting the unit settings.
This review had me cogitating on the old vinyl vs digital saw. Slotting in the Chord Huei invariably gave me a deep and engrossing sound stage that digital finds it hard to equal. That said digital bass can be linear and subterranean in a way that requires enormous attention to detail to equal with a turntable, and by attention to detail I do not just mean setup. Why? That is the million-dollar question. In part it may be that we have been refining analogue playback for over a hundred years. The progress made in improving digital playback over a few decades has been impressive. The quality of digital playback you can achieve today for relatively small amounts of money is remarkable, but drop a needle on some vinyl in a reasonable system and I find myself relaxing into the music. The Chord Huei is a good entry point to give you a taste of what high-end vinyl delivers.
As you can tell, I was quite taken with this phono stage. It is a definite step-up on the Avondale box, PSU and Naim cards, as familiar as that sound is. If you are using this phono stage in MM mode have a listen via MC, I think you may be pleasantly surprised, do make sure you lower the volume first!
Having put this unit through its paces using the Dynavector DV20x2H I will be installing a Goldring serviced Linn Troika in the not too distant future. Side 2 will use this classic cartridge in my LP12/ARO/Geddon, this will be played through my Naim SBLs; should be interesting, the SBLs were released in 1986 and updated to MkII in 1989. I suspect the LP12/ARO/Troika will have been a big part in the development of the speakers.